Save Our (Indie) Books
By Millie Kiel and Mara Radut
Imagine a world with fewer books – horrific, right?
It is the belief of a portion in the publishing industry that, if proposals outlined in an ongoing Government consultation on the UK’s future exhaustion of intellectual property rights regime are taken forward, this could be a challenging reality for UK publishers very soon.
Currently there is a protective border of sorts around the UK meaning that authors can control the distribution of their books: you can’t misappropriate the intellectual property, or print books somewhere it is cheaper to create them and ship them back into the UK market.
This “exhaustion regime” allows UK authors and publishers to set their prices in a way that is fitting for international markets and also prevent copies of books from outside the European Economic Area from entering the UK market and undercutting domestic prices.
In short, it is the security of this copyright border that helps to keep the UK publishing industry competitive – allowing publishers to take risks on books and inspiring more authors and writers to put pen to paper.
The framework which the Government is currently consulting on proposes replacing this border with an “international exhaustion regime.” This would prevent UK authors from being able to stop the sale of international copies of their books in the UK.
Publishing is no easy affair and the “international exhaustion regime” might make it even more complicated for publishers and authors alike.
Should these changes be taken any further, not only will authors lose the protection of copyright, but the book market is in jeopardy of going haywire. The UK market could face the issue of an overflow of different editions of the same title, which, due to authors losing the ability to limit the global resale of their books, could result in a re-selling of them back within the UK for a reduced price and an uncertain income for the writers themselves.
Without the clout and financial and legal resources of larger publishing houses, it is safe to say that these changes also have the potential to disproportionately impact independent presses.
Speaking to Patrick Walsh from PublishingPush, a self-publishing company, the ominous fate for independent publishers with these changes was clear. Bigger, commercial presses “can get it wrong every now and again and it will even out eventually” thanks to big budgets, big warehouses, and big balance sheets. Independents don’t have that luxury.
Indie presses need to be very mindful of the volume that they’re printing and as such, in a landscape where they are already unable to print in the same volume that the larger publishers can, if this proposed change to the copyright is to go through then they’ll also have to compete with the reduced rates of imported copies.
In Walsh’s words, “if they’re then trying to compete with these lower rates then their margins will be squeezed even more to the point of it almost being debatable whether it’s really worth the whole process at all.”
Diversity is largely at stake in this matter as well – if the profit is reduced, writers’ motivation is due to follow, particularly for the authors who work closely with independent presses. Their endeavours might be stopped altogether because some will simply not be able to afford carrying on. Independent presses are huge contributors to the UK’s diverse publishing landscape: each coming in with their own identity and principles.
The proposed changes paint a bleak, almost dystopian picture: different covers of the same title could be displayed side by side, retail prices might not be in accordance with the country that the books are being sold in and individuality might just cease to exist, as UK and export editions will scramble for a place in the book market.
Not happy with the future that the Government framework promises for the industry, authors, publishers and booksellers alike have come together in a campaign to stop the Government implementing the changes.
Save Our Books has been established to garner support for the industry and raise awareness of the potential impact these proposed changes to UK copyright law might have.
They have already gained support: 2,661 authors have recently written to the Sunday Times to oppose the changes, stating that the new “book law spells poverty to authors.” Among the signatories are Max Porter, Hilary Mantel and Maggie O’Farrell.
So, go and make some noise about copyright law and save our (indie) books!